It’s a story I wanted to say a long time ago. I took it with me all my life, actually. And yet, I had never found the words, the time, nor the courage, to engage him in the role. Doing now forced me to erase the notions of privacy and pride – those who tell them family difficulties should keep quiet, so their neighbors do not speak – I did not even know I had held.
And now, as I write it, I realize that the story I had to say was not as I had imagined it at all. In what began as an attempt to share the story of the life of my late father, Commander Naeem Ahmad, became the beginning of my own journey to truly understand the man who continues to shape my life in many ways, great And little.
Naeem was born in a Pakistani middle-class family in what was then the walled city of Lahore on January 26, 1946. He was the second of three brothers and the only male. During his school and college days, he developed a reputation as an avid sportsman and a devil with a sometimes annoying love for speed.
At the prestigious Government College University in Lahore, he was a member of the rowing and swimming teams. Also impressive were his sports achievements that, 30 years after graduation, he was able to guarantee the admission of my older brother there only on the basis of that reputation. Welcoming my brother, the director of the university told my father: “We have moved millions of people at the doors of the school, but very few have a mark like you, their images are always in our main room” .
After graduating, my father was assigned to the Pakistani army. It was in June 1968. He joined a non-combat arm that was in charge of supplying ammunition to the people in combat. After passing through the Military Academy of Pakistan, he was sent to Karachi for his training. There he met Lieutenant Khalil-ur-Rehman, a man who would become one of his dearest friends and now says his relationship: “Fate has united us.”
When a liberation war began in what was then known as East Pakistan and now as Bangladesh in 1971, my father was deployed in an artillery depot there. The conflict was brutal, with atrocities perpetrated on each side. “Basically, the Bengalis killed us and killed them,” said Rehman, now a retired brigade, although he shared stories suggest that the horrors simple sentence can not convey.
But for my father, the war began. He was asked to transport an ammunition convoy to Dhaka, about 50 km south of his base. But his commander had little understanding of the geography of the region and sent my father and his convoy in the wrong direction. When Naeem realized they were heading north, the convoy had already entered a dense forest. It was there where ambushed by Indian paratroopers, a group of elite soldiers, led by Major Raj Pal.
An artillery battle followed, and to the surprise of the Indian soldiers, the 150 noncombatant troops my father directed led a fierce struggle. At the end of the firing, three hours after its start, 64 Pakistanis and 26 Indians had been killed. Impressed by his courage, the Indian troops had been ordered to capture my father alive. Major Raj Pal later said: “We were informed that they were artillery troops, but the way they fought was on an equal footing with trained infantry personnel.”